Thursday, January 29, 2015

Finished with Curtain

Yesterday's entry was about the curtain I was making for the downstairs bathroom. A third good day of sewing and the curtain is finished.

Here you see the trees that because of the curtain you can't see through the window!

At first I thought that even with the purple tree (unfortunately, I couldn't get the color correct in this photo; it really is a purple tree not blue), I would make the trees realistic.  The colors I chose initially were all green, but when I previewed them they looked dull and insignificant on the green background.  That made me think it could be a fall scene with orange and yellow.  Those fabrics came out next.  Then I started to have fun - stripes and tiny patterns began to appear followed by  a honeycomb (now that was a deliberate visual joke, a tongue-in-cheek reference to the pastel paper I used and didn't like).  This still could be a fall scene, but there are quiet smiles to be had, too, I hope.

It's not a work of art meant to be taken seriously - it's just supposed to be as much to look at as it was to make.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Transformation of a Simple Curtain

When we updated our kitchen the downstairs bathroom was included.  D refused to let me have the walls repainted because he didn't want my old, old stenciling covered.  The point is the bathroom has a split personality: stenciled walls, painted sky ceiling, and cherry cabinet, and quartz counter.  Hmmm, right?  

Wait, there's more; D hung the two New Orleans water colors in that bathroom (I am serious that we don't have very much wall space).  The old curtains were tossed, and recently we discovered that the bathroom window lets in sun that shines directly on French Quarter Notes.  A very not good thing.  So I said I'd make new curtains to cover that window.  It wasn't a big thing; the window is only 24.5" x 29.5".  I found a green batik in my stash that would do the trick for a single layer covering.  I wanted filtered light to make its way in.  Once up, that's the way it stayed for a week and a bit.

One day I walked in and saw that piece of fabric hanging in the window and thought that it needed something.   That's when I took it down, went upstairs, cut some free-hand shapes in colors I thought would work in the space (if one could overlook the walls and ceiling - hah!).  The fact that I didn't plan this and draw it out before even starting is a very big change for me.  Another sign of loosening up and getting freer. I sewed trees on the lower left and went downstairs and hung the curtain.

Another few days went by, and it looked stodgy which made me itchy.  I recognized I  needed to do more and loosen up with the colors, too.  So more trees for the upper right including a purple one.  Here's what I put up.  There are pins to form both the top rod pocket and the bottom hem as I hadn't had time to complete the job before the desire to see it in place overwhelmed the need to have a finished product.

Fascinating? No.  But I liked it.

For a while.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

More Painterly Notes on Sam's Portrait

I want to reply to a comment made by E about the portrait of Sam, the black lab.  She didn't find my description about using watercolor and pastels in the same piece helpful so here goes.

E, if you remember, the paper I was using came from a pad designed for use with pastels.  To be fair to the manufacturer, I can't be certain I used the correct side of the paper (that's something I still need to get used to- that paper has a right and a wrong side).  The side that I did use had very regular honeycomb depressions.  When I stroked the pastel across the surface of the paper, the color stayed on the ridges forming the shape of the honeycomb, and little to no color got into the cup-like center of the honeycomb.  It makes sense.  The pastels, never used before, had a broad, smooth surface.  When rubbed over the paper, there was no way it could get into the tiny "cups".  The result was an area of obvious honeycombs with clear dimples. Horrible to me.  

Then I thought that the fluidity of watercolor would fill the "cup".  I started with Payne's Gray (the closest to black most water colorists use) on an area that would not be damaged with a solid dead black.  The paint did indeed fill the cup, and the shade of gray on the pure black of the pastel mingled to a new and exciting shade of dark.  So I started experimenting on a blank sheet of the pastel paper by laying down black pastel and using different water colors from the "black" in an inexpensive set all the way through to white also a color not usually used by water color professionals. As a result of those experiments, I wound up using blue-violet, indigo, green (I'm not sure which one), and both sienna and umber water color to create shadows.  For the highlights, both white paint and white pastels were used.

By painting over the pastels, I think the water in the paint caused the pastel "powder" (for lack of a better term) to flow into the cups while also taking on some of the pigment of the paint.  There were also major areas where I didn't use the paint at all.

In the interests of full disclosure, I also used metallic water color for the eyes and luminescent medium (adds sparkle with no color) for both the eyes and nose, archival ink and water color for the whiskers, archival ink for details of hair.  Black and white water colors are in my everyday palette, and I have no problem using them when I need to.

Because I was not sure water the mixture of paint and pastel would do, I did use a light coating of fixative to seal the pastel.

Finally, E, the photo did not include a red color (all that could be seen was a hint of metal that could have been the buckle of a dog tag).  The owner told me his collar was red and that she loved the way it looked on him so I painted it in.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Vagaries of Winter Weather or Pity the Poor Meteorologist

Will it; won't it?  Will the snow slam us, or will we be spared?  We are ready, but part of that readiness was a cancelled by instructor studio class and a cancelled by me quilt shop class.  Now with the uncertainty regarding the weather forecast, I am sorry those classes are now out of reach.

Oddly enough, I have started listening to a book that is set in Alaska, and if that weren't enough, at this point in the story it is winter in Alaska!  Any time I am inclined to whimper about winter (which isn't often), I'll have to remember the description of the wind as it is in that book!

Anyway, the up side of this down time, is that I was able to make the sample block of the guild's Block of the Month for February.  I really like this one and try to remember to post a photo after the guild's meeting.  While I'm glad I got that done, I'm even more happy to have gotten back to the curtain for the downstairs bathroom.

There's a photo on my phone that I forgot to upload today, and I haven't written about that curtain.  I think it's worth discussing so that will be the subject for tomorrow.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Knitting and Planning a Quilt

Guess I took the completion of one project to mean I could take a holiday from writing.  I have spent the intervening week taking another kind of break as well.  I haven't done any sewing - by hand or by machine - but I did knit.  The charcoal sweater is finished, and I blocked it today.  

It is a cardigan, and it is the first one I've made for an adult.  In a day or two, I'll be able to sew on the buttons above. I had laid the buttons out to find a pleasing order and put the heavy duty thread that I would need to use with them.  I intended to take a picture using my phone so I wouldn't lose the order if the table got bumped.  Then I noticed it made quite a pleasing picture for no special reason and so used a real camera!

While I didn't sew this week, I did join my art quilt group for something that turned out to be an amazing four hours.  I planned to sew the fore- and background together, and I asked for the opinions of the other women.  Carol suggested that I switch the two fabrics so I tried that and loved it!  Carolyn, however, wasn't so sure.  So we put it out on the floor and began talking, laughing, talking about designers, laughing some more, and previewing fabrics.  By the end of the day, I hadn't sewn a thing, and the plan for my quilt had happily been turned topsy-turvy.  

Keeping that last phrase in your mind, here is a photo of what I laid out on my floor when I came home.

You'll see that some fabrics were purchased on sale (on my way home) and still have tags on them.  You may even recognize that some are upholstery remnants from the depths of my crazy quilt bin.  In a wall hanging, one doesn't have to be quite so careful.

In this close up, you'll see things that you may think shouldn't be there.  That's why I took this photo; it gives me a way to see this "from an emotional distance".  Sometimes I get so excited about an idea that I lose perspective.  This helps.

Another thing that I find helpful is the real distance of time.  And that's what I gave myself this week. What I need to do this coming week is get to work on it!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

History of a Painting

Painting a black dog doesn't seem difficult until you either look carefully at a black dog or look equally carefully at many photographs of black dogs.  Although some people may think that painting a dog of any color or any kind is difficult, and to that I'd say everything can be difficult. So here's a brief history of what I did in the hopes that writing about it will keep some of it in my mind for next time.

I looked at many photographs of labs because I've never owned one, and I needed to understand things like the shape of the skull, the length of the snout, the ears, mouth, body, legs . . . .  Even though I didn't paint the entire dog, I did have to understand what made the dog look as it did as it lay on the sofa (which was a plaid that I knew I wasn't going to put into the painting).

Then I had to think about the color of the dog - black.  Black has many different colors in it and reflects many different colors.  So how can I show the folds and shadows?   And how in heck can I paint a black-lab black.  

That's where the idea of using pastels came in. I knew I could get a more intense black with pastels.  Had I ever used pastels, no.  That's the way I do things, and it isn't always smart.  Thank heavens for Internet and YouTube both of which I used to figure out the best way to begin as it was midway between painting classes.  I purchased a pastel paper pad that had the gray color paper that I knew I wanted.  Note to self: check the quality of paper before buying it!  I didn't.  Hated the paper; the side I used (which may have been the wrong side - another note to self . . .) had honeycombs which meant that the pastels stayed on the raised ridges even when I rubbed the pastel across, up and down, diagonally, etc.  But the black was really dark - except for the centers!

Then I remembered a YouTube title that I had seen while trying to figure out to to use pastels with no points (I didn't want to waste them by rubbing the chalk against a surface until a point was made).  I could use watercolors, too.  That was the first rescue mission on this painting . . . 

And that's probably enough for tonight.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Bonus Earned from Practice

"Because of circumstances beyond my control . . . "  How many times have we come upon that phrase?  And it is true yet again.  Ah well. 

Instead of what I had planned to write tonight and cannot, I am going to follow a train of thought that began a few days ago.  And, of course, that's not wholly accurate because whispers of this thought have floated through my mind without being snagged and held still for examination for years. 

Self-confidence.  I mentioned that I found the self-confidence to believe that I could save the piece on which I was working, and I think I mentioned that I was surprised.  When I was a very young woman I had more confidence than I should have had.  At that time, art wasn't a usual subject in junior or high school, but I was lucky enough to have sculpture classes in a local museum for maybe two years.  That was the extent of my training.  

Very full of myself, I applied and was accepted to the art school at Syracuse University.  That's where I began to see that I was out of my depth.  The other students in my classes were far more gifted and had far more training than I.  I left at the end of that first year knowing that my hopes of creating great art while supporting myself as an illustrator were no more than pipe dreams.  Did I have talent?  Now I know that I did, but while I had an overweening sense of self, I had an "underweening"  sense of the value of practice and maturity.  

Anyway, for years my art consisted of the occasional drawing and doodles.  If I ran across a problem, I didn't know how to solve it.  Golly, I didn't even know how to find an answer!  Eventually, I realized that I had a child's facility that never matured.  Sad?  Yes, momentarily, but there were other things I thought I could do and do reasonably well.  So I was contented.

But after retirement, I found I still missed having a creative outlet.  From that time to now I've taken classes and have seen a gradual improvement in my work.  I'm still no more than an artist of minor talent and can accept that. It pleases me that I have had the experiences of the classes and the practice, but it absolutely delights me that it has all led to being confident about the talent I do have.

And writing about it makes it even more real.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

"Signature Required"

It's been a wonderful day; the picture is signed and will be delivered tomorrow.  Tomorrow I will post the photo and write about its creation so I won't forget what worked and what didn't.

Monday, January 12, 2015

A Little of This and a Little of That

In a few more days if all goes as planned, I will be able to show the latest work that has kept me occupied the last couple of weeks.  Tomorrow I will take it in to the studio to see if I can sign it, and I'm feeling pretty good about it.  I do think I have saved it.

Then, now that the relative craziness of last week is over, I plan to pick up the latest "art quilt" project.  That will start by making some fabric - which, by the way, will be far less creative and interesting than it might sound.

In the meantime, since I haven't posted any interesting photographs in a while here's one of our breakfast fruit:

I had just washed the strawberries (which is why the leaves have been neatly pulled up) and cut  a few up for our morning oatmeal when I noticed the irregular pattern my choices had made.  The shape of this particular kind of strawberry has been fascinating me since we first purchased some this year.  Some almost look like radishes and some like . . . well, I don't know what.  But I do know they are very tasty.  Has anyone read or heard anything about this new strawberry?

Then I rinsed the blueberries.  

Such a pretty breakfast!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Featured Speaker

Wow, what a high!  I just came back from a guild meeting at which I was the featured speaker; teaching school was too long ago to make me confident about this presentation.  But . . . this was such a good time; there's nothing like talking to people who share the same passions as one does. 

I was asked to make a presentation on embellishment; we all know how some people feel about that!  Bling doesn't belong on a quilt and all of that.  There's a place for tradition and there's a place for stretching the boundaries a little.  Here's the thing - every single person in that audience was polite and engaged.  They were all willing to hear what I had to say.

I am sure that not everyone was ready to go home and put Swarovski crystals on their quilts, but they were polite and extremely kind.

What more can a speaker ask?  

I belong to a great guild!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

New Discoveries in "Artistic Temperament"

Tuesday has come and gone, and I didn't write about class and the discussion of my watercolor/pastel experiment.  Probably because the commentary was a mixed bag.  Part was quite good, and part might not be able to be saved.

However, I am feeling stubborn about this one, and I am going to charge ahead with it because I think I might be able to bring it off.  I guess I have a bit more confidence in my own abilities now.  And I can accept that if I am wrong, I can start all over even though I pretend during class that I can't bear the thought of it.  

Public and private personae?  Probably.  This is nothing new, but it is new in this context.  The surprising thing is the confident personae.

I didn't know that was part of me.

Monday, January 5, 2015

More on Pastels

ME brought up a good point after she read yesterday's entry.  She said that she was surprised that I had switched to this medium because I'm not known for pastel colors.  It hadn't occurred to me that people would make that logical connection.  Tonight I looked the word up in the dictionary and checked the etymology also.  The first meaning given for "pastel" is "subdued colors", and the second definition is "chalk made from pigments, chalk, and gum arabic or other binder".  The etymology was of no help at all so I have no idea how the different uses came about.  Maybe I should check my OED and add what it says tomorrow.

Today I continued working on my pastel project with a twist.  Since I hadn't been happy with the way the honeycomb paper and the pastels looked (the white showed in a far too regular manner), I decided to try something I had heard about - pastels and watercolor.  While I think one is supposed to use watercolor first and highlight with pastels, mine is the other way around. Watercolors on top of pastels - but of course, I have the option of finishing with either one!

At the moment I don't know what to think of my work.  I'm too close to it.  BUT, I think the method is a keeper for me - no matter which is used first - pastel or watercolor.  However, when I use the method again, I will be able to plan for it which, obviously, I didn't this time. Tomorrow Sharon will look at it with fresh eyes (and with distance) and tell me if it's worth continuing and what to do to finish.  Or start over.

Fortunately, I have been taking pictures of each day's work to show when the painting has been delivered.  Then, no matter how many iterations I have to paint, I will have a record of what worked and what didn't.  I'll have a better notion of what to do the next time I think about picking up pastels.

Experience is one of the best teacher.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Pastels, a New Media

Pastels.  Pftooie!  My current opinion is based on very little experience, virtually no experience at all. Right now I would rate watercolors above pastels and even acrylics above them, too.  That's a lot for me to say, but if you've been reading my blog for any time at all, you'll recognize this for what it is - an opinion based on too little experience.

Today I started my first pastel, and I don't think it's going very well.  Being the first one I've ever done may have something to do with it.  Think about it.  Pastels like the ones I am using are shaped like the chalks I used in school but are a little bit softer.  

Pastel Practice Piece

However, the surface on which I am drawing is nothing like a blackboard.  Blackboards are smooth because if you were as lucky as I was, your blackboard was still slate.  The paper I used today is - well, paper.  But it isn't smooth; it has texture like a honeycomb.  The other side is smoother - instead of a honeycomb it has more of a ripple effect.

Now, try to put those two things together.  Soft chalk on a bumpy surface.  If you rub the chalk over that surface, it adheres to the high points of the paper leaving the valleys looking like white regular shapes.  Then you make a pass with the chalk going across the swatch you've colored.  Some of the valleys are filled in, but mostly the peaks just get darker.  Can you smudge the color to distribute it more evenly?  Yes, but I don't recommend using your fingers.  Talk about dirty!  A quill of paper can be used or even a Q tip.  Both have their strengths, but both cause loose chalk particle to fly around.

Mixing colors on the paper is also possible, but I don't find the colors mix as I expected them to.  It will take more practice to know ahead of time what I will get!  But here is the biggest drawback of all; pastels have no points!  Imagine writing a note with an unsharpened #2 Ticonderoga pencil.  There must be a way to do it, and I bet it has to do with getting used to them.

Thursday, January 1, 2015